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Veterans day speakers get surprise gift from inspired students

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On Wednesday, March 6, Pequot Lakes fifth and sixth grade students presented quilts as gifts to speakers that inspired them at last fall's Veteran’s Day assembly, with each quilt square representing a book read by a student.

Roughly 250 fifth and sixth grade students read more than 400 books in a three week span. During that time, each book these students read earned them a square for use in the quilt, and that was more than enough motivation.

“We thought it was really cool that that’s really all the kids wanted to get out of it, was to give to somebody else,” sixth grade teacher Karen Rubado said. “We didn’t have any parties or anything, and every single kid did at least one. There’s not a single kid that did not read one.”

The initial goal of the project was to create a single “Quilt of Valor” to present to paraeducator and battle wounded Iraq War Veteran Lucas Schmitz.

Schmitz, a new paraeducator at Pequot Lakes, spoke to students at last November’s Veterans Day assembly on personal experiences in Iraq, as well as sacrifices made by other United States Veterans. Schmitz was wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq in 2006, and lost his right leg.

“Just by me going up there and saying maybe a ten minute speech you guys give me this awesome gift. I really appreciate it,” Schmitz said during the presentation. “Wow, all these kids now want to work so hard reading and they want to give me a quilt. That’s really an amazing gift and it kind of humbles me because I’m very happy to know that kids like you are thinking about veterans, not only veterans who are serving still, but veterans who are in the community that now have come back.”

In addition to his gratitude, Schmitz also sees a lot of potential in the program that lead up to the presentation.

“It was a great idea to get them to read, too,” he said. “I could see something like that happening for a while as a motivator for the kids. It also helps to do something for someone specific in your community. I think they could really do this for anything like breast cancer, any other person in the community that needs help, but I thought it was really special that they did it for me.”

According to Schmitz, this is the second Quilt of Valor he has been given. Wounded soldiers often receive them while recovering in the hospital as a way of making their recovery more comfortable.

Students decided to present the other three “Quilts of Patriotism” to three enlisted Pequot Lakes High School Seniors that recited the soldier’s creed during that same Veteran’s Day assembly: Josh Shenk, Kim Jessen and Cheyenne Syvertson-Hagestuen. The other three quilts presented were not technically Quilts of Valor because those are only presented to wounded veterans, but were instead called Quilts of Patriotism in honor of the three Pequot Lakes enlistees they were being given to.

“They expected to make one quilt but they ended up reading enough books that they made four. That was pretty cool,” said Shenk, a Pequot Lakes Senior enlisted in the National Guard. “I thought it was great. It was really surprising and really cool that they did that for us.”

Jessen and Syvertson-Hagestuen were unable to attend the presentation due to schedule conflicts.

“It was sad, but then it was really inspirational,” said sixth grader Madison Chiodi of Schmitz’s experience. “It was really touching that they would do that for the USA, I loved it.”

Chiodi lead her class by reading 10 books, including her favorite, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” during the three week period.

The Quilt of Valor project came in conjunction with a new type of reading and writing curriculum adopted in Pequot Lakes School called “Making Meaning” and “Being a Writer.” The curriculum uses a workshop format to encourage students to read by incorporating reading for enjoyment into their grades and also by getting students to discuss what they are reading and writing in order to increase their understanding.

There is a national foundation that presents Quilts of Valor to wounded veterans in the hospital. The idea for the quilts at Pequot Lakes was introduced by Janet Belanger and organized by Rubado. It was the idea of the students to make a quilt for Schmitz. The quilts were made by Belanger and friends.

“For these kids knowing someone in the school that they can see every day is an example of a battle wounded veteran, that’s a big deal to them, and it made a lasting impression,” Rubado said.